[Vision2020] We Are All Liberals--Well, Almost All

Nick Gier ngier at uidaho.edu
Thu Sep 23 11:39:12 PDT 2004


This piece has been rambling around in my head for several years, and here 
it is out in the open for the political season.


         Liberal democracy is spreading throughout the world and these 
countries are "liberalizing" their economies.  Our conservative politicians 
praise this development and even encourage it.  Economists at the 
University of Chicago who support free market capitalism prefer to be 
called "classical liberals." Conservatives support Christian liberal arts 
colleges, and all of us want our children to have a good liberal arts 
         But what are conservatives doing supporting liberal ideas?  Isn't 
liberalism supposed to a bad thing?  Not in the old days it wasn't.  The 
Latin word liberalis means "pertaining to the free person," that's the 
reason why a liberal arts education prepares students for making free and 
responsible choices in their lives.
         In medieval times there was a strict distinction between the 
liberi, the free born nobles, and the servi, those who were born to serve 
and obey.  The American and French Revolutions were fought to eliminate 
this distinction and to declare that all human being, regardless of their 
class, had inalienable rights to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.
         The divine right of kings and the rule of top males constitute 
classical conservatism, whereas the American and French Revolutions gave us 
classical liberalism.  I don't know anyone who still wants an absolute 
monarch, so all of us today, conservative and liberal, are living in the 
political house of classical liberalism.
         The watch words of the French Revolution were "equality, liberty, 
and fraternity." I would like redefine "fraternity" as "community" and 
point out what I think went wrong in France.  The French revolutionaries 
mistakenly thought that their "new man" would be able to create new values 
from scratch.  Our American revolutionaries were much more 
reasonable.  Although they were critical of oppressive tradition and 
religion, they still saw value in traditional community values.
         Today's conservatives are classical liberals because they support 
equality and liberty as well as community.  Conservatives go wrong when 
they support, or used to support, traditions that discriminated against 
people because of their race or their gender.  For classical liberalism to 
work, as it has done where it now thrives in the world, the three values 
must always achieve balance and harmony.
         Classical liberals who stress liberty and neglect equality and 
community are called "libertarians."  Libertarians believe that adults 
should be able to do anything they choose as long as they do not kill, 
assault, defraud, or steal.  They make, I believe, persuasive arguments 
with regard to free speech, private sexuality, and taking drugs,  but their 
rejection of public services and education undermine the ideal of equality 
of opportunity.
         Classical liberals who stress equality are those who have now been 
tagged as "liberal" as a four-letter word. It was common for some people to 
argue that no person is equal to another, so this is an impossible 
ideal.  Classical liberals were not talking about physical traits such as 
strength or skin color; rather, they were talking about formal equality 
before the law, the very cornerstone of liberal democracy everywhere.
         The free born noble Americans who found our country claimed that 
only they as male property owners could have a full complement of 
rights.  However, African Americans and then women forced us to realize 
that the classical liberal promise for America was a sham until they were 
included with full and equal rights.
         Today Americans who are attracted to people of their own sex, 
through no choice of their own, are denied the equal rights guaranteed by 
the U.S. Constitution.  When judges, even those appointed by Republicans, 
repeatedly rule in favor of gay and lesbians, they are simply upholding the 
ideal of equality won for us by American and French revolutionaries.
         When local governments recognize the right of gays and lesbians to 
marry, it does not undermine traditional values.  On the contrary, the love 
that these couples express to one another preserves the sanctity of 
marriage, and it causes no harm to heterosexual wedding ceremonies 
performed according to conservative religious traditions.
         It is always surprising to me to find that there are some 
Americans who are not liberals in this classical sense.  There are some 
right here in Idaho who believe that men should vote for their wives and 
that gays and lesbians should be executed or at least banned from 
society.  Finally, there are some in the South who want to set up a New 
Confederacy in which Calvinist males would rule in the name of God over 
women and other lesser human beings.  Classical conservatism will always 
find a few fans.

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.fsr.com/pipermail/vision2020/attachments/20040923/f7b4af6f/attachment.htm

More information about the Vision2020 mailing list